by Richard Windsor.
Every year hundreds of thousands of foreign wanderers explore the multiple dimensions of a country which holds more recorded superlatives and UNESCO world heritage sites than any other on earth. Often however while the more fundamentally cliched sites are given massive credence thanks to popular culture and Chinese tourism boards, scores of the most memorable offerings China has to offer go nearly unnoticed.
During my years in China, one place stood out among the veritable buffet of offerings which can be found in the Middle Kingdom. China’s Fujian province. As a whole, truly a hidden gem. Ranging from the lush vegetation of the subtropical climate, which when observed from a sleeper train arriving from the north at day break will give an explorer glimpses of sheer beauty as the sun cascades over numerous lakes, round peaked mountains and rice fields. I should preface the words which follow with a brief notation of the fact that while during the cultural revolution, much of China’s real history was destroyed as books, buildings and people were destroyed by the now standing communist party; through all of this however, the Fujian province remained largely unscathed. So like it’s international counterpart Taiwan, the Fujian province remains mostly authentic with its historic sites unlike the dozens of other cities spanning from Beijing, to Shanghai, as well as Dalian and Wuhan to name only very few affected by the government takeover.
1. Fuzhou: Travelling down from the north, the first major stop along the way would be the warm and balmy Fuzhou, the capital of the Fujian province. The city is set up in layers. Toward the outside, your usual China fare of densely populated apartment towers. On the inside, Fuzhou’s most excellent West lake surrounded by amazing eats and a vast jungle covered walkway around the circumference of the body of water, complete with flying eve covered buildings, buskers and sweeping views of the scenery including the prototypical Asian mountains often found in old ink paintings hanging in a Chinese restaurant back home.
A twenty-minute walk from there is Three Lanes and Seven Alleys, one of China’s centuries old historical districts. Three lanes Seven Alleys is a labyrinth of black stoned walkways meandering through hundreds of wooden buildings filled with local artisans selling Chinese crafts ranging from instruments, to paintings as well as quaint coffee shops for something more catering ton western tastes. From there, one could follow the water channel streaming South from Westlake on foot through a large portion of the city which would lead to the illustrious bar street where a traveler could dine or enjoy some of the finest local drinks made by precision cocktail makers who have exceeded the bounds of their craft.
2. Quanzhou: After travelling Fuzhou for several days, you can hop on a bullet train and travel one hour to the south to find one of the Fujian province’s crown jewel historical cities. A quiet place known as Quanzhou. I travelled there for business and was contracted to work there for one year. While I anticipated the mundane, I received an incredible surprise. The humid and extremely hot Quanzhou being the last stop on Marco Polo’s famed silk road trading route is peppered with historical buildings like the twin pagodas, the old man on the mountain sunrise walk, the buildings of old town and another West lake (China has many) will drive awe into the heart of those curious enough to tread on their grounds. Quanzhou is best done by bicycle or foot to truly savor its sunshine and fresh offerings like the old town food district.
For the better part of two to three days one could explore Quanzhou before finally departing to Xiamen. Located another hour long bullet train ride to the South, Xiamen is a sort of Hawaii jr. for China. Known as a playground for the rich due to the numerous top-end hotels and luxury dining establishments located throughout the city, as well as a must-go destination for Chinese pilgrims wishing to visit the gorgeous sister island Gulangyu which is a 20 minute ferry ride from the island.
You can start your day with breakfast in the hotel district near the north end of the island and slowly walk your way south along the west coast enjoying all that the lively island has to offer. Xiamen has a vast array of fish market streets where one can enjoy the freshest seafood Asia has to offer for pennies on the dollar while drinking beer and observing the bustling nightlife of Southern China